Eleven-year-old Blaze James and her twin sister, Aerial, know two things beyond a doubt. They're two of the prettiest girls in Shreveport, Louisiana, and they'll always be there for each other. Then one night, a gas explosion leaves their father dead and Aerial severely burned, changing their lives forever.
While Aerial goes with their mother to Baton Rouge for treatment, Blaze stays behind with a neighbor. Free-spirited and unconventional, Felicity Hardaway opens Blaze's eyes to a whole new world, inspiring her to explore her own budding desires. . .and the answers she finds will bring passion, betrayal, and a love beyond expectations.
"A southern-set, fast-moving coming-of-age tale with the immediacy of informal storytelling and intimate conversation somewhat like Alice Walker's The Color Purple. . ..A riveting tale of aching love, deceit, and shifting points on the continuum of human sexuality." —Booklist
"A startling, provocative novel. . ..A story that is as unexpected as it is entertaining." —APOOO BookClub
"A witty and talented author with a knack for creating unforgettable characters." —Zane
"Ford creates unpretentious, gritty masterpieces." —Upscale
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About the Author
Darnella Ford is the author of Naked Love, Crave, Choke and Rising. A spoken-word artist, she incorporates her poetic narrative style into novels that have won enthusiastic critical and fan acclaim. She performs regularly in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her daughter.
Read an Excerpt
By Darnella Ford
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Darnella Ford
All right reserved.
It was the late spring of 1983, and I was a pee pot.
I was addicted to peeing in the bed.
I did it every night, without fail.
I would wake up midstream, but by then it was already too late. The deed was done, and I would lie there, shivering.
Why couldn't I wake up before I peed?
Was that too much to ask?
And more pee.
The sheets would fill to capacity with the strong, pungent liquid spilling warmth from my bottom, which quickly turned cold, but that wasn't the bad part, just the unpleasant element. The bad part was that the acid of the pee had eaten through the flimsy mattress of the top bunk, burning a hole straight through it. Literally, it ate it right up. When I took off the sheet, the springs were exposed, and gigantic brown stains howled disapproval from one end to the other.
This was especially bad news for my identical twin, Aerial, because we slept in bunk beds. I had the top bunk, and she had the bottom. Every time I peed in the bed, it would leak through the springs and drip on her face. This happened so much that I would tease Aerial and call her a pee-pee face.
I offered on more than one occasion to switch bunks with her, but she refused each time, stating as the basis for her refusal, "The top bunk stinks—smells just like pee!"
"So does the bottom bunk," I reminded her. "It's seen just as much pee as the top bunk."
"Yeah, right!" she snapped with a twisted expression.
Aerial was a beautiful girl, but when she poked out her lips and rolled her eyes into the back of her head like that, those good looks flew straight out the window.
"That face you make ain't cute," I always told her.
"And neither is bed-wetting," she'd always remind me.
In infancy, bed-wetting was an acceptable form of self-expression, but once I grew out of diapers, it wasn't cute anymore. It's just not a cool thing to do when you're in the sixth grade.
I went to sleep dry.
Woke up wet.
By the way, I should probably tell you my name, since you already know some pretty embarrassing stuff about me.
My name is Blaze LeDoux James. I am eleven years old, but I am a long way from being average. I am gifted by way of intelligence. Now, nobody has officially confirmed my "gift" of being unusually smart for my age, so you may ask the question, "Who said I was gifted?"
I said it.
And why did I say it? 'Cause in the end, the things we say about ourselves are the only things that end up being true. We are self-created. Now you can see firsthand why I call myself gifted.
I live in Shreveport, Louisiana, across the street from a garbage dump. Truth is, my whole block stinks to high heaven, not just my bunk bed.
We live at 216 Turnpike Street in "economy housing," or something like that. It just means the houses are darned near free, because our backyard and front-yard views are of city trash. It seems like the house is almost turned around sideways on the street. Rent is real cheap, 'cause we live behind the railroad tracks, and every hour the walls shake from the railcar passing through.
All of the houses on this street are small, run-down shacks, and the neighbors are shady—not because they're covered by trees but because they do crooked things.
Our next-door neighbor calls himself "Reverend Mike," but he ain't no more a preacher than you or me. He stands on the corner selling fake jewelry and gold teeth to anyone who wants to get a good deal for cheap. But the only thing I say is buyer beware. It has been rumored on the street that Reverend Mike's jewelry turns both the skin and the teeth pea green. Not very attractive at all.
Four doors down from our dump and directly across the street lives Miss Felicity Hardaway. Rumor has it she's the best barber in all of Shreveport, Louisiana. She owns her own little barbershop close to downtown called Cutting Up. It's always packed, because not only is Miss Felicity really good, but also the fellows are partial to her good looks.
According to the little perverted neighborhood boys, they use a term called stacked to describe her 'cause of the way her body is built. Miss Felicity's breasts and hips are extra large, and the boys go nuts for her. She's always prancing around half-naked in the neighborhood, wearing these itsy-bitsy booty shorts, smacking gum and smoking one cigarette after the next. She talks with the volume turned up on high, and we can always hear her telephone conversations, which are mostly cackling laughter, because the sound trickles out of her living room and down the driveway, spilling out into the street.
I oftentimes find myself staring out of the big picture window that sits in our living room, waiting on Miss Felicity to come home. There's something downright mesmerizing about her that brings me here.
"Why you always staring at that woman?" Aerial would ask.
"'Cause she's different," I'd say.
"You don't even know her," Aerial would insist.
"Yeah," I'd agree, "but I'd like to."
"You think you might like to be fast like that when you grow up?" she'd ask me. And I would look at her and roll my eyes, and stick out my tongue at her.
Miss Felicity Hardaway is well-known in the neighborhood because she's good for blasting her radio all night, till the early morning hours. Most of the fellows overlook it, 'cause most of them have crushes on her. The women in the neighborhood are good and sick of Miss Felicity. Good and sick. Mama is not a big fan either; she's never said anything bad about Miss Hardaway, but we can just tell she doesn't like her. Maybe 'cause our daddy, Mr. Rufus, is always trying to sneak a peek out the window when Mama ain't looking, but that's impossible, 'cause Mama's always looking.
"What you think she's like?" I asked Aerial every afternoon when we'd pass Miss Felicity's house on the way home from school.
"Seems something like a movie star to me," she would always say.
"You think she's prettier than Mama?" I would ask.
"No way," said Aerial.
"I do sometimes ..."
"Bite your tongue, Blaze James," she'd say. "Nobody's prettier than Mama."
"You think she's crooked?" I'd ask.
"Everybody on this block is crooked," Aerial would say. And because of that, everybody on the block owned a gun; people here don't respect private property.
They'll knock on your door in the middle of a bold afternoon, pull out a cheap handgun, and kindly scoot you over to the side while they help themselves to everything from a cup of sugar in the kitchen to your television set in the bedroom.
I've seen three robberies in broad daylight with my own eyes. It didn't faze me much, but Aerial always freaked out. Both were commonplace in my neighborhood—the theft and Aerial's oversensitivity to life.
I didn't take too much seriously and was able to shake off a lot, but Aerial didn't seem to have that ability. It appeared to me that she was a bleeding heart to everybody's cause. She was the sensitive one for sure, and overly darned caring in my opinion. She was always trying to bring home stray animals and feed homeless people, oftentimes giving her own lunch away on the way to school each day.
"Why do you always give your lunch away?" I'd ask her.
"They're hungry, Blaze."
"Well," I said, "how hungry you gonna be without lunch?"
"I'll be just fine," she'd affirm.
And, of course, she would be just fine, because I'd always end up sharing half of my lunch with her, and she would eat it with a smile, look into my eyes, and ask, "Doesn't it make you feel good, Blaze? Helping the homeless?"
"No," I'd say, pouting as we sat beneath the same sap tree on the school playground sharing my measly lunch each day. "What would make me feel good is having the other half of my lunch!"
And Aerial would smile.
"But don't you feel good helping?" she'd ask.
"Yes, you do!"
"No, I don't!"
"Yes, you do," she'd keep saying until I made this pitiful expression, and she would look at my dramatic face and burst into laughter. She would laugh so hard, I couldn't help but eventually break down and laugh, too, even though I was mad about splitting my lunch straight down the middle.
Still I would laugh.
I laughed because maybe it was funny.
Aerial's laughter was contagious, and it would sneak up from behind and catch hold of me.
It was real like that.
"Stop making me laugh!" I would command her. "Stop it!"
"You know you love helping the homeless," she would tease, tickling me.
"Do too! You got a good heart underneath all that stuff," she'd say to me.
"What stuff?" I would ask.
"Well, what stuff is that?" I'd insist on knowing.
"Just stuff," she would always insist back.
"I never know what you're talking about," I told her. "You're always talking in code. This stuff. That stuff."
"It's not this stuff or that stuff," she'd insist. "It's your stuff."
Our sibling bickering always ended with the same grand finale—Aerial's smile. It was "the smile of life," a river of gold and to see it was to be in awe of God itself.
Aerial and I were identical in appearance, identical beyond telling each other apart, both wearing the same beautiful shade of brown, both with long, flowing hair as thick as horse manes, both with the faces of Gods, both direct descendants of black/French ancestry.
We were really pretty girls.
God made us perfect.
Strangers knew it. Our parents knew it. Even blind people could tell we were pretty. Somehow, they could sense it. And we knew it, too, and every time we looked at each other, we really did see ourselves.
On a deeper level, I was the one with the regular smile, an everyday kind of smile. It was beautiful, but it wasn't magical. And if you looked at both of us at the same time, honest to God you couldn't tell us apart till you looked at the smile; then it became obvious who was the truly beautiful one.
Like I said, we were both really pretty ... but Aerial ... Aerial was a different kind of pretty. I knew it, but it was no big deal, because most people got caught up in the stupid stuff, like our skin and our hair, or maybe they got stuck on the fact that we were just about identical; but those who had the good sense to look past all that could always see us and tell us apart.
Aerial had something I couldn't touch. She had a shine that could not be duplicated, even by me, her twin.
Her soul passed mine up.
I don't know how to explain it any better than that, and never in a million years would the average person know the truth that I accepted the moment we joined souls in twin-hood: Aerial would always outshine me.
And I was okay with that.
I knew it.
And she knew it.
It was an agreement we made at birth.
She would shine and I would bask in the glow of her reflection. I would be the real smart one, and she would be the real magical one.
That was our deal.
I can't convey it in bigger words than that. It pretty much says everything on its own. Like I said, we were both mighty fine-looking girls, but Aerial, Aerial, Aerial, would be the one to shine.
Chapter Two"What Makes You Special?"
Mr. Rufus and Aliyah James were the two grown people who lived in our house and paid stuff like rent and bought stuff like food. We had the same last name and even shared similar facial features and expressions. Actually, we were the children of our mother and saw very little evidence of any relations to the notorious drunk Rufus James, who stated his paternal claim so boldly on our birth certificates.
In short, our mother was a high school beauty queen who traded in her crown in the twelfth grade for motherhood and two shifts as a waitress at the local dump ... I mean diner.
Rufus was ten years her senior, a tenth-grade dropout and kind of on the lazy side. A wanderer of the neighborhood, he worked odd jobs here and there, maybe. He knew everybody, but nobody really knew him, including us, the identical seed of a misunderstood sperm shot.
From time to time, Aerial and I would see ourselves in them, but it was fast and fleeting, the view.
Most of the time, we watched from the sidelines in awe of their stupidity. Stupid may not sound like a nice word, but for the life of me, I don't know what else to call it.
That's how they behaved most days.
In your language, Rufus and Aliyah would be what is termed parents. But we only called them that for lack of a more suitable noun, because in our twin language we often referred to them as nincompoops.
"Do you think the nincompoops are home yet?" I would ask Aerial each day as we walked home from school.
"God, I hope not," she would respond.
She didn't want them there, because wherever they were, chaos would follow.
You name it.
A case of the crazies would grab hold of them. Maybe it was because Rufus drank hard liquor as if it were grape Kool-Aid. And when he actually did go to work, he did so for a factory across the river. He was a fill-in janitor. When the regular cleanup crew was out, Rufus would fill in. Or better yet, "fill up," because he hated work but loved the booze and the women. At least that's what the walls whispered in the late-night hours. Actually, the walls don't whisper at all; they kinda shout, scream, and cry at 2:00 A.M. when nobody's looking—but they're always listening.
"Word is you and Etta got something going!" Mama would yell.
"Who's Etta?" Rufus would slur.
"Etta's the tramp you been seeing behind my back!"
"I don't know no Etta!" he'd insist.
"Etta sure knows you," Mama would accuse.
"Who knows me?"
"Etta knows you!"
"Who's Etta?" Rufus would ask again.
"The tramp you seeing behind my back!"
"I don't know no Etta, heifer!"
"Well, Etta sure knows you ..."
And back and forth it would go like a bad comedy or a song gone way wrong. It was like a dying dog that you prayed somebody would put down so the rest of the litter could sleep.
"Sweet God in heaven, I wish the nincompoops would go to sleep!" Aerial would declare, forcing a pillow over her head to drown out the background noise of their ignorance.
Sleep was wishful thinking.
Sleep was something that white kids with real daddies got on school nights—not broke, disadvantaged black kids who lived across from city dumps with drunk pappies who filled up on cube steak and Jim Beam.
What was that?
"You don't love me," Mama would whine. "Do you?"
He never answered.
"You love me, Rufus James? You love me?"
"Goddammit," she'd scream. "Don't you love me?
I work two jobs to take care of you, and I gave you two kids out of my own body!"
"And?" he'd respond, like what she was talking about wasn't a big, huge deal.
"And don't you love me for it, Rufus James? Don't you love me for it?" And this is where he would bust up laughing. It was always right here that Crazy Rufus would laugh on cue.
"Why you so special?" he'd ask Mama. "Why you think you so doggone special?" Now, funny thing is, she never had an answer, except to say, "I work two shifts at my job and had two kids out of my own body for you."
"So what?" he'd say. "What makes you special?"
"I spit out two kids at one time for you," she'd say with a righteous twang in her Southern drawl. "And they look just like each other."
"Yeah," Rufus would say. "They so busy looking like each other, they ain't got time to look like me. I'm supposed to be the daddy...."
"Where I'm from, two kids born at one time that look just like each other is called a miracle, 'cause it don't happen that much," Mama would boast.
"Where I'm from, two kids born at one time is called a burden, 'cause they eat you out of house and home!" Rufus would bark.
"Ain't no more expensive than your old liquor and bad gambling debts," Mama'd say.
Excerpted from Finding Me by Darnella Ford Copyright © 2009 by Darnella Ford. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Blaze is definitely a unique individual. Blaze takes her audience onto an extravaganza of events. She captures your heart and trully can relate to the frightened confused little girl in all of us. She is captivating with her bold spit fire tongue. I trully found this book alluring and it pulled at my heart strings. I could defintely relate to Blaze and saw our pasts mirroring one another.
I loved ever aspect of this book. I thought I would read "a little" before going to bed one night, but I read the whole book straight through because I couldn't put it down.
Fly in drops two punds vof c4 on th skeleton and 2 pound of thermite and set them both of obliderating th skeleton she fly out
I had no idea of the journey I was going to embark on while reading this novel. It was exciting, funny and true to heart. I must read.